1 Vikings Move Just Became a Necessity

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The Minnesota Vikings finally pulled the trigger and shipped Pro Bowl defender Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns for a couple of pick swaps that netted them two fifth-round picks for a sixth and a seventh-rounder.

However, the big cap savings are the real asset, as the cap-strapped Vikings saved some valuable cap space by moving on from their edge rusher, who requested a trade two months ago. He wanted a new contract, the Vikings didn’t want to do that, and a trade was the logical consequence.

1 Vikings Move Just Became a Necessity

1 Vikings Move Just Became a Necessity
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General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has already signed Smith’s replacement in March. Marcus Davenport was the most expensive offseason addition, and he will slide into the starting lineup with Smith in the picture. The former Saints defender signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Vikes.

Davenport will line up as one of the two edge rushers. The other one is Danielle Hunter, at least for now. The defender is criminally underpaid. He is receiving a paycheck worth $5.5 million in 2023, the final year of his contract. Hunter needs a new contract.

The salary is so low because he signed a team-friendly deal that kicked in in 2019. Because of his fantastic play in 2019, the Vikings restructured his contract to give him more money earlier on his deal. The $5.5 million are the remaining money on the contract, and he rightfully won’t play for that kind of salary.

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Adofo-Mensah has only two choices in the current standoff. He can either trade him away or sign him to a new deal. The better solution for the 2023 Vikes is the latter. Hunter is one of the league’s best edge rushers and can’t be replaced, especially because it would cost the Vikings an additional dead cap hit of $5,740,000 and leave a total dead cap hit of $18,860,000 just to see him play for a different team.

Moving on from him doesn’t make sense financially and is even worse from a football perspective. Hunter fired up 10.5 sacks in 2022 after missing all but seven games total in 2020 and 2021. He suffered a herniated disc in his neck in 2020 and a torn pectoral muscle in 2021, both season-ending injuries. Regardless, Hunter came back, and after a few weeks of learning a new position, he looked like he never left.

He is only 28 years old, despite his huge sack totals and accolades. Hunter recorded 71 sacks in his career and is a three-time Pro Bowler, including last season when both Smith and Hunter participated in the event in Las Vegas.

The Vikings 2022 Defense by the Numbers: After Week 9
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The defender came to the Vikings when Rick Spielman, former GM, selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft. He was considered a project as he didn’t put up huge numbers in LSU, but his athleticism was off the charts. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson worked with him. He had to back up veterans Brian Robison and Everson Griffen in the first couple of seasons, but his talent was undeniable. Despite the time split with Robison in 2016, Hunter got to the QB 12.5 times.

New defensive coordinator Brian Flores must love having a dominant edge rusher in the building, especially with a shaky coverage unit. Hunter was eighth in quarterback pressures in 2022 which should be a huge help for the young cornerback group. One of the 2022 rookies, Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans, or 2023 third-rounder Mekhi Blackmon is expected to start.

Seven edge rushers make $20 million or more on average. The top 10 have a salary of at least $17 million per year. Hunter’s old deal was worth an average of $14.4 million. Expect him to seek top 10 money on his new deal, a deal without any alternative. It has to be done, and the only thing more critical for the organization’s future in the next few months is a new contract for Justin Jefferson.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt